Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How do we get aligned?

                  In the recent months KASB Leadership Services has been working with service centers throughout the state to align supports and provide a systemic approach to developing leadership at all levels.

A systems approach to leadership is defined by a clear vision that is communicated and viable throughout all levels of the system.  This means that all levels of the system have established and are implementing goals that move them towards the board’s vision, and are utilizing common leadership vocabulary and processes to maximize resources and supports throughout the district.

As districts continue to strive to improve student performance, alignment around a systems approach to leadership becomes even more critical.  The supports that are in development will provide ongoing professional development for building-level leaders, district-level leaders, and board members to build their capacity around the leadership practices that research has shown make a difference. McREL International refers to this as the “What Matters Most” framework.

                  Supports provided are divided into two levels: Foundational Learning and Continuous Learning.  Those supports found within the Foundational Level are designed to provide leaders with the necessary tools and strategies to build on as they develop their capacity as a leader.  The Continuous Learning supports take educational leaders through deeper learning experiences that will result in them becoming more effective at their given role in the district.
                  The building level leader's Foundational Learning focuses on practical tools and strategies to deal with the rigors of the building leader role.  These include establishing a vision and uniting stakeholders around that vision; performing supervision and evaluation to improve student achievement; and developing communication channels to insure two-way communication is occurring.  This Foundational Learning will provide any principal new or experienced with a great foundation for building leadership.  
                  The Continuous Learning focus is the McREL Balanced Leadership Framework where building leaders will delve into the “art and science” of leadership.  They will also engage in reflection around their current practices and be provided techniques that will move them from a solid building leader to an exceptional building leader.  There are also opportunities within the Continuous Learning supports for building leaders to further develop their instructional leadership skills.
                  Superintendents, district leaders, and board members will have opportunities to build their capacity related to current initiatives and challenges that school districts are facing across the state.   These opportunities include topic-specific professional development for superintendents and district office leaders.  
                  School Board members can engage in activities designed around current issues in Kansas education and the district-level leadership practices that have shown over time to make a difference in student achievement.  At the foundation for superintendents, district leaders, and board members is the strategic planning process and annual monitoring of goals established within the district.
                  Through the Continuous Learning activities, superintendents, district leaders, and board members will be able to design, implement and monitor a strategic plan that moves their district to the next level of performance.  

Contact us if you have additional questions or would like more information.



Monday, March 3, 2014

Get In The Game

One of the greatest challenges of leadership is moving people forward when they would rather stand still. As a former coach (some would say old coach) I can remember many times telling players to “get in the game.” It was a phrase used to motivate, inspire, and push for better performance. It was generally used when situations were tough and the scoreboard was not in our favor.

At this time of the year politics don’t appear to be going our way. As a leader, how are we going to respond? (I know, I know you're thinking, I'm in education not politics.) Yes, we are educational leaders and some of us don’t like politics. Well, like it or not, we are in politics. Not the kind that means you are seeking office, but rather the type of politics in which we are responsible to educate and to influence. The politics that we must engage in focuses on changing people’s opinions, or as some would say "winning hearts and minds.”

How can we influence others and help generate support for public education? We must do it several ways. First, we need to open the schoolhouse doors and invite in the public. Once parents and community members are in our buildings they will see all of the positive learning activities teachers are using to impact students. They will gain a better understanding of the importance of our mission. Visitors will see students using technology, involved in cooperative, project learning, and a higher level of engagement in the learning process. Understanding that students don’t sit in rooms full of desks looking at the chalkboard will be an enlightening experience for many people.

Second, we must lead our site councils and community leaders in conversations about WHY we do what we do. We must share the VALUE of public education.  In current arguments or  debates we have allowed the focus to be on expenditures instead of investments.  We have allowed others to determine that efficiency is more important than effectiveness.  As leaders we must frame the discussions in terms that focus on the value of public education, not the costs. Benjamin Franklin did more than fly a kite, he stated, "an investment in knowledge pays the best interest."  As leaders we need to make sure we are always sharing the great things that happen everyday in our district and buildings.

The third and final thought: SPEAK UP! We must be ready with the facts, and share them. I recently read the State of Kansas ranks 4th in the nation in percent of contribution to public education. This is a true statement, but it is incomplete and misleading. The complete statement would include that in the early 1990’s Kansas Legislators decided that property tax relief was needed as well as increasing funds for public education. Property taxes were lowered and the state's contribution was raised by design to equalize educational opportunities, and disperse tax burdens across the state.

Without the entire story it is easy to misinterpret the message. The good news for public education is that we don’t have to mislead or tell part of the story. The Kansas education model works. We are not where we need to be related to educating all students, but it is worth noting that more students are achieving at higher levels in Kansas now versus any other point in time. In these difficult financial times for Kansas, public educational achievement has continued to trend upward. Indicators of the educational impact in Kansas include higher graduation rates, higher post secondary success, and progress on closing the “gap” between socioeconomic groups, race/ethnicity, and gender.

If you are looking for more facts to better tell the story, refer to: http://tallmankasb.blogspot.com/ . Mark Tallman does a great job of discussing both sides of educational issues. You will gain insights that allow you to better share your public education story as you educate your stakeholders.

This blog started today by talking about coaching and ended by challenging leaders to educate the public. I hope everyone will take the opportunity to speak up. It is our responsibility to tell our story because it is a story that must be told. It is “time to get in the game.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

Is Your School in a Bad Mood?

We have entered the time of year, when the “eternal optimism” we provide as leaders can begin to wane. We have the delightful Kansas winter to deal with, numerous activities to attend, or in some cases reschedule due to “road conditions’. Indoor recess becomes the norm not the exception and leaders soon have a true understanding of the term “stir crazy”. To add complexity to our profession this is also the time when some factions of the legislature or public accuse public educators of not doing an effective job with students.

These are the times when we have to reflect on our actions as a leader and how they impact the “mood” of our schools. In reading a recent article in Educational Leadership, Moran & Moran compared an organization's morale to a mood. They went on to define that moods are a result of intense feelings or situations. There are some insights to be learned here, think about the “intense” events that make up a “normal” day in the lives of our students and staff, now compound that by the implementation of new curriculum, evaluation systems, and likely a technology initiative or two. It is no wonder our “mood” is suffering.

The reality is that being a teacher and/or educational leader is hard work, and when the intense feelings or situations begin to mount against us we begin to feel overwhelmed or discouraged with our situation. Adding the sum total of the complexities and relationships across the organization, the mood can become less than ideal. When we conduct leadership training we spend a great deal of time discussing how to create a purposeful community, where everyone is united and focused on a common mission and vision. That mission helps us determine how, and why we do the work. McREL’s Balanced Leadership often refers to “outcomes that matter to all” and “agreed upon processes”. This uniting process starts with leaders looking in the mirror and seeing an honest reflection. Do we find ourselves using our leadership skills to help our stakeholders see the bigger picture, and are we helping them connect their daily work to our overarching purpose? As leaders we often get lost in the implementation of change X and forget to see the bigger picture, and forget that any change is really a changing of people’s behaviors. Changing people’s behaviors is not a linear process or even a step-by-step process. Changing behavior more closely resembles an IEP, where each person needs different supports and solutions. If their needs are not being met, they will ultimately impact the organization’s mood. So as a leader ask this simple question, how am I impacting the mood of my organization?

The following are some key points to keep in mind as we begin to address the broad needs of our staff as they go about their daily work:
  • Understand that you set the tone as the leader; your words and more importantly your deeds portray your sense of calm, and direction, or stress, and disarray. 

  • Communication is a two-part activity, speaking and listening. Take a minute and truly listen to what your staff is saying, then tailor your response to resonate with their current set of needs. 

  • Continue to paint the picture. Humans are very visual, and when people can “see” the plan, or feel the end results, they can begin to understand how to align their work to get there. 

  • We all like to succeed from time to time. Think about ways as a leader that you can support individuals so that they may experience success within their day, or with the change they are trying to figure out. 

We often tell boards how much we value and appreciate their service and commitment to public education. As an educational leader, never pass up an opportunity to remind your staff how much you value their commitment to the most important profession….education. Nothing impacts moods or morale more than finding value in serving kids. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Year, New Challenges

New Year, New Challenges, Same Foundation

As we move into the new year public education will be faced with a new set of challenges.  So much to do...so little time.

As many of you know KASB has sister organizations around the nation.  Many school districts across the country are dealing with the very same issues even if they are 200 hundred or 2000 miles away.  The California School Boards Association recently shared a Top 10 list for new board members that we thought might be worth sharing with Kansas Leaders.  

  • Think kids!
  • Work as a team, speak with one voice
  • Keep confidential matter confidential
  • Maintain the big picture view
  • Listen, learn and ask questions
  • Understand and stay with your role
  • Respect the past and work toward the future
  • Abide by Policy
  • Accept that change takes time and planning
  • Advocate, advocate, advocate!

We have discussed some of these topics in earlier blogs but several of these topics really need to be repeated for all board members on a regular basis.

Think kids
The motivation to run for the local school board is very personal.  Countless reasons move people to serve in this important leadership role but none of them are more important than the kids.  Our success as a community, state, and nation will be determined by the level of education we provide future generations.  
Marian Wright Edelman (1939-)stated,Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.” No matter how difficult the situation if we always find a way to keep students first boards will make the best decision possible.

Work as a team.
I know many board members around the state have listened to KASB leadership services teach about teamwork and boardmanship, some might say that is one of Leadership Services “core values”.    We know that at times that message may get old but great boards really are “great teams”.   Until each board member puts the goals of the district above their own personal goals the board will struggle.  Boards must strive to find common ground and work together to accomplish district goals and improve student success.  

Keep Confidential Matters Confidential
Transparency and open board meetings are critical to develop trust within the district and community.   But as you know, some topics require confidentiality.  Kansas law allows for board members to enter into executive session for eight different reasons.  The eight reasons for an executive session include; 1) Personnel matters, 2) consultation with an attorney, 3) negotiations, 4) confidential data of a business, 5) matters affecting a student, 6) acquisition of property, 7) security, and 8) inextricably intertwined subjects.   A board member must be cognizant that executive session conversations are confidential.  Keeping confidential information confidential is the “law,” and is an important component of being an effective board member.

Maintain the Big Picture View
Does your local Board of Education have district goals established?  District goals allow all members of the board of education and the superintendent to move in the same direction.  Your goals must be the “Big Picture View.”  A district with effective goals will keep moving in a positive direction.  Goals provide the roadmap to meet your district’s aspirations and fosters continuous improvement...  A “Big Picture View” keeps you at the 10,000 foot level so that you can see the whole district and not get caught up in the day to day operations of which you rely on capable district and building level administrators.

Listen, Learn and ask questions
The management guru Peter Drucker indicated,  “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”   As leaders we often find ourselves discussing important topics and ideas.  If we are not careful, we will be talking when we would be better served listening.  It is difficult to learn when we are the only person sharing ideas.  Listen to fellow board members, community members and others whenever you have a chance. Turn to your administrative team for recommendations, have quality discussions and an exchange of ideas based on accurate data.  Boards that spend time together sharing ideas and learning from others make better decisions.  

Understand and Stay with Your Role
The superintendent is tasked with the day to day operations of the school district.  As board members are well aware, you are always wearing the school board member title in your community.  You understand your role much better than the general public which sometimes wishes you to be the superintendent for their problem.  An effective board member knows their role is governance and policy making.  Developing a vision and setting goals for the district is where the board can have the greatest impact on school improvement.  

Advocate, advocate, advocate.
Finally, stand up for education and schools.  So many great things are happening in classrooms across this state yet we find ourselves on the defensive in so many circles.  The reason education has changed is based on the demands of the future.  If you want to read a short story about what happens to education when it is unwilling to change and plan for future needs take a few minutes and  read,  The Saber Tooth Curriculum. Don’t be afraid to share your insights and speak up.  Board members know more than most about the quality of education Kansas students are receiving, yet as we transition into 2014 and the upcoming legislative session, there is the possibility that decisions could be made by the legislature that will result in school boards having to make some difficult decisions.  At times these “difficult” decisions can negatively impact the culture of a board.  While these decisions are never easy, it does become easier to maintain a positive direction if there agreed upon values (kids) that the board lives each time they are faced with one of those “difficult” decisions.  

It is kind of like the old country song by Aaron Tippin, “you’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything,…..never compromise what’s right and uphold your family name….”

In the case of schools and boards, the “family name” is our students and community needs.  As a board have you defined what you want and value for your students?  Do you as a board understand what is valued and needed within your community?  These are key questions that will help you define, “what you stand for.”  

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Missing Link

As many of you know KASB has been partnering with McREL and the Educational Service Centers this past year.  It has been a productive relationship that has benefited many Kansas school districts and of course students.  It has been amazing to watch the McREL Teacher/Leader Evaluation System become so widely adopted.  The Educational Service Centers are noticing an increased demand for McREL Power Walkthroughs as well as Classroom Instruction That Works.  We believe an understanding of the power of the “system approach” has had a major impact on participation.  It just makes sense to adopt a model that is researched based and is proven to help student outcomes.

The power comes from a systems approach when districts develop common leadership and instructional vocabulary, resulting in better communication.  This common instructional and leadership vocabulary makes it possible to clarify expectations, and provide aligned support.  When systems have clarified expectations, aligned supports to those expectations, this allows leaders within the system to focus on reducing the variability often found with instruction from classroom to classroom, and between schools within the system.  In the end if we can reduce the variability among classrooms and schools we will see our systems improve to the benefit of our students.  

Equipping educational leaders to reduce the variability in their systems is no small feat.  As districts are starting to take the systems approach we are seeing a renewed demand for Balanced Leadership training.  The Balanced Leadership training that we offer focuses on the McREL research around the Balanced Leadership Framework.  This training is designed to equip educational leaders with the art and science of leadership that ultimately will help them improve their organizations.  Understanding the Balanced Leadership Framework should be at the core to aligning your system.  We are wrapping up a session at Smoky Hill this month but we are getting ready to start new sessions in Shawnee Mission and at Greenbush South.  We have also just started a small, but engaged group here at KASB in October.  

Leadership impacts everything we do in education and as the research shows, Leadership Matters!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Update: KASB Leadership Services

Wow, it seems like it has been a long time since we sat down and worked on our blog.  There is a lot of new information for board members to share and many thought provoking discussions ahead.  

We have just finished a three week tour of the KASB regions.  Just under 400 hundred people came together around the state to discuss current educational issues.  Part of each session was devoted to new board members and although the total number of participates in New Board Member Workshop II was not as high as we would like, the new board members that attended took part in some fantastic discussions.

It has also been a year of transition.  The Leadership Services has added Gary Sechrist as a field consultant and he has been on the road.  Gary plans to attend as many area service centers meetings as possible so superintendents will have a chance to visit directly with KASB and share concerns or issues face to face.  We think that will help improve our services and provide better support for the onsite services we offer.

Many people might find this hard to believe but KASB has already conducted over 60 whole board trainings just since July.  We met with 18 boards just in the month of August and we have 13 more scheduled in November.  All of the sessions are designed based on the needs of the district.  Many of the trainings were about boardsmanship and teamwork as boards were learning to blend their new members with experienced members.  Another common topic has been planning and goal setting.

The superintendent search season is underway and already several openings are posted on our website.  These searches take us to all regions of the state in an effort to try and match superintendent candidates with districts’ needs and desires.  To kick off the search season we hosted our annual aspiring superintendents workshop here at KASB.  We were excited to visit with twenty six outstanding men and women that are focused on educational leadership and want to make a difference for Kansas students.

Coming up this Fall and Winter we have several events that can assist you and/or your board with their leadership efforts.  Please visit our KASB website to find out more information, https://www.kasb.org/store/searchresults.aspx?EXCLUDEEVENTTYPE=X
Just a reminder about New Board Member Workshop III which is held in conjunction with the KASB Annual Convention.  This year it is in Wichita so we anticipate see many new board members in attendance.  Don’t forget to take advantage of the free pass and make sure each board in Kansas has someone at this year’s activities.

The Leadership services department attempts to provide valuable information on a timely basis for superintendents and boards.  The leadership team is providing a regular blog and podcast that we hope you make part of your routine to learn more about our services.  We hope these social media methods give you the opportunity to listen and read when your time allows.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

Systems Approach

KASB leadership services have been traveling around the state working with boards, superintendents, and principals.  We have been involved in many great discussions about “school improvement” the past few weeks.  From training on boardsmanship and strategic planning to working with district administrators focused McREL’s Balanced Leadership and Evaluations a common theme is apparent.  School districts that are using a big picture, systems approach to student achievement are starting to see the benefits of their efforts.
So what does leadership of school district look and feel like when done from a systems perspective?  
Alignment is often referred to when we talk about the curriculum and instruction.  We focus on gaps or redundancies within the system, resulting in unprepared students. This alignment is critical for students, but there is alignment that also must reflect the board’s vision to impact the work happening in classrooms.  The board sets a vision and adopts policy consistent with the needs and expectations of the school district stakeholders.  The district administrative team along with the board aligns actions and resources to make that vision happen.  Then building administrators and teachers work within an established framework to focus on the necessary steps to accomplish the vision set by the board.  The results of alignment are consistent expectations throughout the system around instruction and achievement, common vocabulary and processes within the system creating a defined sense of the work to be done.
Leadership Teams Engaged in Continual Learning
Peter Senge in the the Fifth Discipline book, discussed the three critical dimensions of team learning; 1) teams must think insightfully about complex issues-What is your process for asking the right questions to engage your team in some critical thinking about current issues in education?, 2) there is the need for innovative, coordinated action-How does your system inspire innovation to meet the needs of a changing student and community population?,  3) continually foster the development other learning teams to develop within the organization-What structures are established to develop a collaborative culture  between building principals and teachers focused on student success?  
Systemic Monitoring and Evaluation
How do we know if we are making progress if we never look at where we are going?  School districts have to develop a culture around monitoring, reviewing, and evaluating all aspects of the system.  We encourage leaders to formalize a process to frequently revisit goals, and outcomes to determine if they are tracking towards the desired vision.  School districts consistently establish goals that clarify what they would like to accomplish, but often they are overlooked in the day to day challenges of running a school system.  It’s important that leaders maintain a constant focus on the mission and goals.

When a district has a clear sense of why they exist and where they want to be in the future, advocating for support and resources within your community becomes an easier sale.  Yes, I said sale! The recent controversy surrounding the “common core standards” is a perfect example of the importance of outreach.  Educators did a wonderful job of sharing information and communicating within our circles.  We were much less effective when it came  to the community, politicians, and other stakeholders about sharing our ideals and beliefs.  As leaders we must “paint the picture” and share a vision of how each of our students benefit when the school district continues to improve and innovate.

            Take the Long View
As we are living through major shifts in the educational landscape, we start to focus on the individual initiatives and the timelines to get them implemented.  If we are not careful, focusing on isolated initiatives, leads us toward disconnected systems, because the people impacted by the initiatives do not have the opportunity to understand how “it” fits with the overall direction of the system.  We have to continually assist individuals impacted by the initiative to step back and survey the horizon to show them where and how these changes merge towards the common vision and direction that has been established by the board.

As educational leaders we must always take the time to explain “why” what we do is so important for students.  A clear understanding of the systems approach will benefit our schools and communities as we make decisions for the future.